Monday, June 09, 2014
The Fault in Our Stars (Josh Boone, 2014)
Not my fault
Have to admit, not the perfect demographic to appreciate Josh Boone's adaptation of the ultrapopular Young Adult book by John Green. Caught myself looking longingly at the poster for Edge of Tomorrow on my way to my multiplex seat, the way a bull looks longingly at the exit on its way to the veterinarian's scalpel.
What sold me on the idea of sitting through this ordeal? Someone saying to me: "I want to watch the movie, so I could tear it a new orifice."
Not that I think Edge is the better picture. Not the biggest fan in the world of Tom Cruise save when he's doing comedy or being an asshole (usually both), and loathe the prospect of watching yet another sci-fi (hate the term, but when the movie involves big explosions and Bigger Fucking Guns, it's appropriate) extravaganza. If I have to watch yet another shard of shrapnel spin at the screen I'm going to start implanting eggs in people's bellies. I'm serious, practically.
So what's the sitrep? Two cancer patients, one prettier than the other and both unbearably cheerful and cool; they meet cute, they fall in love--so far so so-so. The youths are conspicuously well-off--both drive cars, for one, live in really nice houses, in nice all-white neighborhoods. The boy in particular has a basement man-cave complete with gigantic hi-def television, vast expanse of wood flooring, the very latest in sound equipment and video games (I had such a bad impulsive thought--"Oh, that'd be so worth it"--that I spanked myself soundly on the wrist for thinking such things).
Maybe more impressive (or alienating) than the little perks and accessories enjoyed by the wealthy and glamorously sick are their parents. Who are perfect. Who are 100% supportive and permissive. Who come off as androids with unlimited credit lines, who live only to serve their kids' every whim, and as quickly step back and vanish when they're not needed ("Can we be alone together? Hazel and I have to talk."). The book does reportedly allow for a bit of frustration and disagreement between family members (And why only parents? Don't cancer kids have brothers and sisters?), but what really goes on, the kind of shit that hits the fan when a child is sick or dying and you as a parent don't know what to do--I didn't see that. Their facade of unfading support is heroically unbroken (well, only once--and the girl actually reprimands her mother for that one slip).
They go to Amsterdam--no, there are a few minor obstacles along the way (including a relapse on the girl's part) and then they go to Amsterdam (partly on a last-wish organization's funding, partly on their parents' too-good-to-be-true credit cards),--to fulfill the heroine's dearest wish, to meet her most favorite author, Peter Van Houten, writer of the fictional (and presumably awesome) An Imperial Affliction.
And that as it turns out is the movie's best scene, because Van Houten is played by none other than Willem Dafoe--yep, Mr. Eric Masters, Bobby Peru, Jesus Christ Himself, on the big screen and larger than life, literally (Lars Von Trier in an interview claimed that the prosthetic penis used for Dafoe's explicit sex in Antichrist was smaller mainly because everyone 'got confused' when they saw the real thing). Yep, that guy gets to confront the dewy young lovers and wipe the floor with them. And be totally, authentically funny and bitter and angry while doing so. Almost worth the price of the ticket--almost.
Then the denouement--someone dies (What do they say? Oh yeah--SPOILERS!) and the beauty of life in all its transience is affirmed. Dafoe shows up one more time, but not to keep it real (alas), only deliver a crucial piece of paper. A couple of eulogies are spoken, the end.
It's not badly done; if anything Boone has served the book up faithfully (far as I've been told) and well, all romantic cinematography and swooning music, with gorgeous Amsterdam thrown in as added bonus. Actress Shailene Woodley for her part serves the book better than it deserves, with few false moves or forced emotions (Ansel Elgort as her companion isn't as authentic, but his character had better lines). It's sincere, I'm sure the filmmakers were sincere, I just don't believe a minute of it.
Amsterdam's an unfortunate choice for lovers' romantic romp, not just because the kiss in Anne Frank's house is in questionable taste (and the onlookers approving, applauding--only in Hollywood!) but because the cobblestone streets remind me of a rougher, cruder and in my book far more honest story about doomed love, Paul Verhoeven's Turkish Delight. The lovers there weren't as cuddly (if anything they were spoiled, self-centered, and not a little threatening), the details far more real (you lose your hair in chemotherapy, in horrifyingly ugly tufts, your makeup is nowhere near as glamorous (in Stars the vomit presented in one scene was unoffendingly watery)). Oh and the most prominent parent there, the girl's mother, was supportive--somewhat. And a hell of a lot more believable.
I'm aware it's a hit, and if you love it--go to, god bless, more power and all. Not everyone's going to respond favorably to this kind of emotional blackmail though (How dare you hate a kids-with-cancer movie!), not every real-life Van Houten's going to crash and burn in ignominious defeat (I'm not even alcoholic, sorry). I suppose it was a mistake to go watch this, but the mistake's done, and this the end result.
In parting--a final image to leave in y'all's heads: